We cannot deny that Lady Macbeth did contribute to Macbeth’s downfall although she wasn’t alone in this act. Many other things did affect the tragedy; the witches who cruelly deceived Macbeth with half-truths about his destiny, Macbeth’s own greed and desire to be king, and of course fate itself which although we may try to deny it or escape it we cannot because if it’s meant to be then it is meant to be.
Macbeth’s fate was tragic of course because at the start of the play Macbeth was a respected and loyal subject to the king, Duncan. The play includes many different elements strategically put in it because of the events and issues of the times to interest the audience. There’s no historical evidence of Lady Macbeth’s influence or witchcraft, although the characters; Macbeth, Malcolm, Duncan, etc, did exist. I think that Shakespeare was being rather bold in suggesting that the suspicious death of the king was murder, and that he was lucky that it didn’t anger people. Murder of the king is used as a shock tactic in the play. This was more shocking to an audience in Shakespeare’s time as the king in those days was thought of as God’s representative on earth for the people. For someone to kill someone as high up as that must have seemed even worse that it would nowadays. Shakespeare includes witchcraft in the play, he did this to interest the people as this was a popular issue of the time with many believing in it. In fact many people were accused of this and if they were found guilty of practising witchcraft were executed.
Another shock tactic Shakespeare used was the characteristics of Lady Macbeth. An audience in the 1600’s wouldn’t have even thought of a woman acting the way Lady Macbeth did. Women in those days were thought of as caring housewives and mothers, and not as vicious murderers. It was very out of the ordinary for them to wish away all their feminine qualities, and shocking that Lady Macbeth was so devious.
We know from the first moment we met Lady Macbeth in the play that she isn’t an average woman. In his letter Macbeth tells his wife what the witches had predicted: he’d be thane of Glamis, thane of Cawdor, and king, and how the first prediction has come true. We learn a lot about Lady Macbeth in this soliloquy. Our first impression is that she thinks Macbeth is too kind to get kingship by the easiest way,
“Yet I do fear thy nature: it is too full o’ th’ milk of human kindness to catch the nearest way.”
This proves to us that she must have a vicious nature, to comment on Macbeth’s nature as being, “full o’ th’ milk of human kindness.”
“Hie thee hither, that I may pour my spirits in thine ear and chastise with the valour of my tongue all that impedes thee from the golden round”
From this quotation we can see that she intends to sway Macbeth round to her way of thinking, by using her feminine qualities she will convince Macbeth that killing the king is the easiest way. She proves herself to be an ambitious and determined woman while being cruel minded.
“Come, you spirits that tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here, and fill me, from the crown to the toe, top-full of direst cruelty,”
this part or her soliloquy shows us that Lady Macbeth wishes to get rid of all her feminine qualities and fill herself with cruelty and evil. She doesn’t want to be a woman, but wants masculine qualities. At the end of the scene Macbeth enters and Lady Macbeth tells him,
“Look like the innocent flower, but be the serpent under’t,”
this quote tells us of Lady Macbeth’s deception. She wants him to look welcoming and innocent, but be ready to cause hurt and pain beneath the exterior. Here we see her controlling Macbeth’s fate and learn that she has a deceptive appearance.
When Macbeth is having doubts about killing the king while he is enjoying a banquet and Lady Macbeth’s company, Lady Macbeth shows her true colours yet again. Macbeth leaves the banquet to think, he thinks of all the reasons that he shouldn’t kill Duncan; he is likely to be killed in revenge, he’s scared of what will happen to him in the after life, the king trusts him as his loyal kingsman, and Duncan is a great king. While he’s contemplating these factors Lady Macbeth enters. He tells her, “We will proceed no further in this business.” Lady Macbeth responds with more authoritative language,
“Was the hope drunk wherein you dressed yourself?
Hath it slept since? And wakes so green and pale at what it did so freely?”
We see her playing on Macbeth’s guilt and using rhetorical questions to convince him. She is very convincing; she changes his mind even though he had recently come up with good reasons not to do the act.
“We fail? But screw your courage to the sticking point and we’ll not fail.”
Using a rhetorical question, she makes it seem impossible for them to fail, telling him to gather up all his courage. She continues to describe the whole plot of killing Duncan in his sleep and framing the guards. Macbeth says, “Bring fourth men-children only'” this highlights that even Macbeth knows his wife lacks female qualities.
In act 2 scene 1 Lady Macbeth’s first words are, “That which hath make them drunk hath make me bold,”
the fact that she has been drinking would have shocked a Shakespearian audience as it wasn’t considered proper for a woman to conduct herself in this way. Macbeth enters telling her, “I have done the deed.” She replies with, “I heard owls scream and crickets cry.” A Shakespearian audience could relate to this also, as in their times these were considered to be a bad omen. When Lady Macbeth discovers Macbeth has brought the daggers, murder weapons, with him from the murder scene and refuses to take them back, as he doesn’t want to return to the scene, she calls him “infirm of purpose” and returns them herself to the guards to frame them. This shows us that she’s in control and quick-witted. Now, when she returns with blood on her hands the same as Macbeth, she says, “My hands are of your colour” “a little water clears us of this deed.” Unlike Macbeth who asks, “Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood clean from my hands?” When we see these two points of view we realise just how different Macbeth and his wife are. She is cruel and deceptive, while he has morals and feels guilty.
Macbeth puts on an unconvincing performance when Duncan’s body is found. Lady Macbeth then pretends to faint. This cleverly draws attention away from Macbeth and again we see an example of how quick-witted she is. She is in control here.
Macbeth has now been named king and at a banquet, after he has killed Banquo, starts hallucinating and seeing Banquo’s ghost. Lady Macbeth doesn’t panic when Macbeth starts acting oddly in front of their guests, She tells the guests that Macbeth has had odd moments like this one since he was a child, that it was an illness. When she realises that he isn’t going to stop acting weirdly she tells the guests that attention will make him act worse and eventually asks them all to leave. Again this is another situation where Lady Macbeth was forced to think on her feet and take control of the situation.
These are all examples of Lady Macbeth in control of Macbeth and how she does affect his fate. When she receives his letter the first thing on her mind is murder. She’s much more ruthless than her husband Lady Macbeth may seem like the best and most calculated killer you could imagine, however during the murder of Duncan she says,
“Had he not resembled my father as he slept, I had done’t.”
Here we see a softer side to her. We assume this is the kind of emotion she wanted the spirits to take from her. It is this kind of feminine quality she wishes so badly to be rid of.
Lady Macbeth isn’t always in control in “Macbeth”
“Tis safer to be that which we destroy, than by destruction dwell in doubtful joy.”
This is Lady Macbeth realising one of the factors Macbeth contemplated earlier in his doubts about killing Duncan. She’s finally realising that in killing him, she and her husband have left themselves vulnerable for assassination themselves. In her opinion it is much safer to be Duncan at this point as he is dead, but they have to go on in uncertainty. When Macbeth enters she tries to take control again mentioning to him that he can’t trust Banquo, “of sorriest fancies your companions making.” She wastes her breath as Macbeth has already sorted it. By not telling Macbeth of her new guilty feelings towards their horrifying crime she is repressing her true feelings. Macbeth is now starting to act independently and not relying on his wife’s input.
Lady Macbeth’s repressed guilt catches up with in Act 5 scene 1. In the beginning of this scene her attendant is speaking to a doctor about Lady Macbeth sleep walking. In her sleep she puts on her night-gown, takes a piece of paper writes on it and after returning the paper returns to bed herself. When Lady Macbeth enters (sleep walking) with a taper the attendant says, “she has light by her continually: ’tis her command.” This hints towards the idea that Lady Macbeth’s fears have led her to be scared of the dark. Lady Macbeth starts to speak,
“Here’s the smell of blood still: all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand.”
“Out, damned spot: out, I say! One: two: why, then ’tis time to do’t: Hell is murky. Fie, my lord, fie!”
She recalls bad memories of her and her husband killing Duncan, before she said “a little water will clear us of this deed,” but now she feels she can’t wash away the guilt.
“The Thane of Fife had a wife: where is she now?
What will these hands n’er be clean?”
Lady Macbeth is overwhelmed with guilt because of the death of innocent people. In Polanski’s version he has her sleepwalking naked which does make her appear very pathetic and vulnerable. The Shakespearians would have made more sense of this than us as in those days it was thought that a lack of sleep was a result of a guilty conscience which would apply here. Lady Macbeth has lost control of Macbeth and her own thoughts.
Earlier in the play, Lady Macbeth is the stronger of the two characters, while Macbeth struggled with his guilty conscience. Now that her conscience has caught up with her, she can’t cope with it and she goes totally mad with guilt. She keeps washing her hands in the hope that she can wash away her feelings of guilt just as easily as the blood after Duncan’s murder.
Lady Macbeth isn’t entirely to blame for Macbeth’s actions, although she did encourage his evil within to reveal itself. After Macbeth and Lady Macbeth killed Duncan, this triggered Macbeth to become an evil tyrant. We see examples of this on three main occasions; when Macbeth hired the murderers to kill Banquo, when he went to the witches to seek guidance, and when he ordered Macduff’s family to be killed. Throughout the play we see Macbeth growing in confidence, in these scenes we see him acting on his own without the influence of his wife. At the beginning we notice he is an ambitious man but lacks the confidence to commit the horrible crime of killing Duncan, without his wife’s influence on the matter he may not have had the guts to go through with the murder, and may not have developed the confidence he has at the end.
At the end we see Macbeth at his worse. He is truly a monster reeking havoc, killing innocent people, just to stay king. Before his death he is the most confident he has ever been in the play. When his wife’s madness and insanity push her to kill herself he shows no hint of sadness.
“She should have died hereafter. There would have been a time for such a word.”
This line in the play can be interpreted in two ways. Firstly, that he has truly become a heartless monster who couldn’t care less if his wife is dead or alive, or that he has no time to grieve for his loved one as he has a battle ahead of him. Either way, these are hardly the words of a caring husband when he hears his wife has committed suicide.
In Macbeth’s final moments we see the complete transformation when he realizes that he is done for. The earlier Macbeth would have been nervous and terrified, but the new Macbeth
“Ring the alarm-bell! Blow wind, come wrack; At least we’ll die with harness on our back!”
Macbeth knows he is going be defeated when the wood moves to Dunsinane, but doesn’t show any fear. Although he was turned him into a tyrant, he keeps some of the qualities he possessed at the beginning before he was warped by evil.
Basically Macbeth contributed in turning himself into an evil person, and in this way Lady Macbeth wasn’t in complete control of her husband’s fate.
The Witches and the supernatural forces played the biggest part in this tragedy, in my opinion.
From the start we know that the witches are pure evil from the line,
“Fair is foul, and foul is fair”
We know instantly that the Witches speck in riddles, but once you figure it out this can be interpreted as the Witches see bad as good and good as bad. In this way they draw Macbeth in and give him false confidence.
When the Witches first met Macbeth we know instantly that they aren’t normal. We know this as one of them describes how she put a spell on a sailor so that he couldn’t sleep. We get the impression that they aren’t ordinary from Macbeth and Banquo’s reaction when they first see them,
“That look not like th’ inhabitants o’ th’ earth, and yet are on’t
The Shakespearian audience would have believed the witches were real and thought they were scary.
At the start of the play the witches predicted to Macbeth that he’d be; Thane of Glamis, Thane of Cawdor, and King. They also told Banquo in front of Macbeth that his descendants would be King. Macbeth and Banquo believed them because the riddles were hypnotic and said in strict verse.
“All hail, Macbeth! Hail to thee, Thane of Glamis!”
“All hail, Macbeth! Hail to thee, Thane of Cawdor!”
“All hail, Macbeth! That shalt be King hereafter!”
When the witches told Macbeth this, they gave him hope to be King. He believed them since the prediction of him becoming Thane of Cawdor came true, and he was already Thane of Glamis. If the Witches hadn’t have told Macbeth these predictions, he wouldn’t have told his wife them in his letter, and she wouldn’t have encouraged him to kill the king. When Macbeth got kingship he became paranoid about Banquo. If the Witches hadn’t have told Banquo his future with Macbeth present, Macbeth might not have killed him in the fear that his descendants were a threat to him. Within these predictions the Witches caused the death of two innocent people; Duncan and Banquo.
When Macbeth later returns to the Witches for more guidance, but this time they don’t use their riddles to inform him. They brew a spell that makes Macbeth see three apparitions,
“Macbeth, Macbeth, Macbeth! Beware Macduff; beware the Thane of Fife.”
“None of woman born shall harm Macbeth”
“Macbeth shall never vanquished be, until Great Birnam Wood to high Dunsinane Hill shall come against him.”
Once again the Witches’ advice to Macbeth leads to the suffering of the innocent and extends Macbeth’s reign of terror. The first apparition warns Macbeth of Macduff. This leads to Macbeth deciding he’ll warn Macduff off by sending men to kill his wife and children. The second apparition actually falsely eases Macbeth’s fears by telling him that no man born of woman will defeat him. The third fills Macbeth with confidence as it is impossible for a wood to move from one place to another, therefore he will possibly never be vanquished. On first impressions the predictions are all good news but it doesn’t turn out that way. Macbeth takes the riddles as good but strange events happen afterwards that change their meaning completely. The half-truths had given Macbeth false confidence. This shows us that the Witches possibly find it amusing to tell half-truths and confuse their victims. This highlights their power.
Although the Witches ply a small part they may have had some more involvement than would first appear. The evil tyrant that Macbeth becomes may have been a spell the Witches placed on him. When Macbeth sees a dagger that leads him to Duncan’s chamber, that may have just been his imagination. On the other hand it could have been another spell put on him to make him think he sees a dagger leading him to the chamber. Another suggestion is at the banqueting scene, was is his guilt playing up on him or was it another of the Witches’ ideas to mess with his head? It was all put in the play by Shakespeare to draw in the audience using their belief in the supernatural.
In Polanski’s version, at the end he had an unknown person going to speck with the Witches. This, I think, is a good idea as it symbolises that although Macbeth has died and his life and his story is well and truly over, the Witches live on, but not only that, evil still remains to stir up lives.
In conclusion, I believe that Lady Macbeth’s cruel and vicious nature had her playing a large role in Macbeth’s downfall. Although Macbeth’s own strength of character, his ambition and his belief in the Witches does affect his downfall as well. The Witches, in my opinion, were responsible for starting off this mad chain of events leading up to Macbeth’s inevitable defeat. Shakespearian’s would have believed more strongly in the power of the Witches, as witchcraft was believed in. In my opinion it doesn’t matter what time you’re from you can understand the influences upon Macbeth and appreciate the plot, with its interesting and deep characters.